So, London’s currently putting on a little show called the Olympics, and for the past few days I’ve been witnessing it first hand.
I was always going to compare, compare, compare with visiting the Olympics when it was on in Sydney. I compare all the stadiums I’ve visited, and in this case I’ve only got one other Olympics with which to compare London.
For one, the Olympic Park is amazing. It’s huge, well-managed and dotted with architectural marvels such as the velodrome and the basketball centre. In Beijing it was all about the Bird’s Nest – this Olympic Stadium doesn’t have quite that wow factor, but collectively they’re all very impressive. What’s even more intriguing is that quite a few of the venues are temporary, yet they don’t have a non-permanent feel at all.
The transport links, despite being fretted about constantly by Londoners, seem to be working a treat. About two-thirds of the trains we’ve caught have been about half-full, with only a few Tube hops being chockers, which is pretty normal really. We’ve been given free public transport cards for every day we’re here, so we’ve been hopping around the city pretty easily.
The volunteers are also as friendly as they were in Sydney. They’re everywhere, all with a smile on their face, and very very perky. In Sydney we called them ‘perky people’ and the description also fits here. Watching the Olympics at home, you always hear from the media about how wonderful the volunteers are and you often think, ‘oh yeah, of course they’re going to say that’. Trust me – you’ll never see a more cheerful, helpful group of people than the volunteers at the Olympics.
At the same time, there’s also some things that Sydney did a hell of a lot better. The major issue I’ve found with London is a product of its own success; they’re almost too organised. I hate feeling like a sheep when travelling and unfortunately this crept in yesterday; you are moved about with astonishing pace, into and out of venues, with entry-only and exit-only stations and one-way footpaths. Getting from Stratford Station to the Aquatic Centre looks to be about a five-minute walk, but the route was more like forty-five. I understand that they’re freaked out about potential pedestrian chaos, but the rebel in me just wanted to push away the temporary fencing and walk straight in.
The Brits’ love of queuing is also definitely on show – Paul remarked that maybe it’s this year’s demonstration sport – we were put in a queue for a queue yesterday to enter the Megastore. The queue, once we got to it, wasn’t a queue at all, it was just a little course around a roped off system of queue barriers (I have no idea what you call those things).
Another issue is the Olympic Park itself; you need a ticket to an event (or pay for a park-only ticket) to enter. This is the first time they’ve done this at the Olympics and it means that you don’t have locals just wandering around, soaking up the atmosphere. Instead, the open spaces seem to be for ferrying people between venues rather than being a communal space and has in turn dulled the atmosphere slightly. There’s a giant screen which alternates between ads for British Airways and actual sports coverage, and that’s the only spot in the entire park that can tell you about what’s actually going on inside the venues. The weather – of course not the Brits’ fault – also doesn’t help, with it at times being too wet or cold to sit down and watch. I felt very sorry for the organisers when it bucketed down on Tuesday.
All in all though, the Brits have done a solid job. The security is present but the checks are quick and easy, there’s plenty of toilets around and the food isn’t as expensive as it could be. People are also simply in that mood that is often dubbed, somewhat cringingly, as the Olympic Spirit – we’re chatting to strangers, singing songs on the PA system and cheering genuinely talented sportspeople. Well done, London!